Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. said Thursday that its online shopping sites are temporarily blocking sellers from subscribing to marketing and promotion apps linked with rival Tencent Holdings Ltd.'s WeChat mobile messaging service.
阿里巴巴集团(Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.)周四说，其在线购物网站暂时禁止卖家使用与微信(WeChat)相关的营销和推广应用。微信是腾讯控股(Tencent Holdings Ltd.)旗下的移动消息服务。
Sellers on Alibaba's Taobao and Tmall sites have been using such apps to send promotional messages to online shoppers.
Unlike Amazon.com Inc., Alibaba doesn't sell products but operates websites that allow sellers to find buyers. Sellers on Taobao are mostly small merchants, while Tmall hosts major brands such as Nike and Gap.
Separately on Thursday, Alibaba said that the company and Sina Corp.'s Twitter-like Weibo microblog business in which Alibaba holds a stake 岸 are launching a Taobao-friendly version of Weibo, integrating user accounts for the two services. Weibo will also provide Taobao sellers with marketing services to help them promote their products on the microblog, Alibaba said.
Alibaba said the two announcements, even though they came on the same day, are not related. The company said it decided to suspend the WeChat-related apps because it received complaints from consumers shopping on its Taobao and Tmall sites that they were getting an ※excessive§ number of promotional messages on WeChat from sellers. In some cases, Alibaba said, sellers were using the apps to guide shoppers outside of the online payment process run by Alipay, an Alibaba affiliate.
Still, the moves raise questions about whether Alibaba is trying to protect its user database from Tencent while deepening its partnership with another social network. WeChat-related apps could be getting in the way of Alibaba's attempt to maintain its comprehensive user database including payment data under its control.
But Alibaba spokeswoman Florence Shih said that the sole reason behind the decision to block the apps is to ensure secure transactions for shoppers on Taobao and Tmall.
There are ways to use WeChat that don't offend our buyers, and we have no issue with that,§ she said.
A Tencent spokeswoman could not be immediately reached for comment.
While Alibaba dominates China's fast-growing e-commerce market, Tencent's strengths lie in social media and gaming and it has a strong user base among smartphone users thanks to the popularity of WeChat.
As transactions and other online activities move to smartphones, Alibaba has already taken steps to adapt. In April, Alibaba struck a deal to buy an 18% stake in Sina's Weibo business for $586 million, gaining an opportunity to tap into the social media site's strong mobile user base 岸 a much-needed alliance to bring more mobile traffic to Taobao and other Alibaba services,
On Thursday, Alibaba said that Taobao and Weibo will integrate user accounts so people can log into both services from either site. The companies are also introducing new ways to display products sold on Taobao on Weibo and allow people to place an order directly from Weibo.